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Orange Pushes Startup

Orange SA (London/Paris: OGE) has swept aside the usual suspects in the rollout of its Push-to-Talk (PTT)-type services, opting instead for kit from newcomer Kodiak Networks (see Orange Intros PTT Service).

Today’s financially undisclosed deal sees the San Ramon, California-based startup score its first ever customer announcement, beating off more established PTT equipment rivals Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK), LM Ericsson (Nasdaq: ERICY), and Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT).

Kodiak’s rival startup fastmobile Inc. has also been dropped, despite an earlier trial announcement for PTT services with Orange UK (London: OGE).

With approximately 80 employees and a $10.5 million backing from VC partners Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Redpoint Ventures, Kodiak claims today’s win marks the start of a prolonged assault on the PTT market.

“We only came out of stealth mode last November, but we also have a CDMA customer in the States who we haven’t been able to announce yet,” CEO Craig Farrill tells Unstrung. “We have PTT trials in 20 carriers worldwide.”

Analysts meanwhile are surprised by today's large-scale deal. “Given that it is Kodiak’s first win, it is a slightly surprising choice,” comments Ovum Ltd.’s principal analyst Jeremy Green.

Dubbed Talk Now, the Orange service will be the first commercial European launch of a PTT service (see PTT: The New SMS? and Europe Catches PTT Bug). PTT allows people to use their phones as walkie-talkies, merely pushing a button to talk to another user or group of users.

PTT has already experienced significant success in the U.S., with Nextel Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: NXTL) claiming to generate around 20 percent of its revenue from the technology. Last August Verizon Wireless launched a similar offering (see Verizon Pushes-to-Talk, Finally ).

Orange expects to launch its service in the U.K. and France in the second quarter this year, before moving to Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, and the crucial Slovakian market in the third quarter; it looks to roll out in another four countries by the end of the year. The carrier is attempting to get one million PTT subscribers twelve months after rollout, a realistic figure, according to industry watchers.

“It is certainly achievable in light of the company’s 47 million customer base,” believes IDC senior analyst Paolo Pescatore. “The question is, will it work in Europe -- a market where we use voice, SMS, and email so much?”

“PTT can be described as a bit of a toy,” notes Ovum’s Green. “There is a lot of enthusiasm from vendors, but it will be interesting to see whether it does take off.”

Naturally, Kodiak’s Farrill plays down fears over user demand, as carriers attempt to wow consumers with the latest next-generation data services. “We want to bring back the renaissance of voice,” he states. “It still has so much potential. We want to re-energize it.”

— Justin Springham, Senior Editor, Europe, Unstrung

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